Culture Writer Ilina Jha reviews the RSC’s adaptation of Julius Caesar and finds the performance to portray the imminent demise of Caesar perfectly
The RSC’s new production of Julius Caesar (directed by Atri Banerjee) is a fresh new take on the centuries-old play originally written by William Shakespeare. Thalissa Teixeira stars as Brutus, a well-respected senator of Rome who is asked by Caius Cassius (Kelly Gough) to join in the plan to murder Julius Caesar (Nigel Barrett), whom some senators fear holds too much power. Despite initial reluctance, Brutus agrees for the supposed good of the Roman Empire. While the conspirators attempt to explain their actions to the public, Mark Antony (William Robinson), who remains loyal to Caesar, sways public opinion the other way. Battle thus ensues between the conspirators and the forces loyal to Caesar in this dramatic tragedy.
Ominous music plays in the theatre as the audience files in, thus setting the tone for the play before it has even begun. An added opening scene involves musicians climbing onto a giant cube to play, while the community chorus (also clothed in black) performs a series of haunting breaths that shakes the Soothsayer (Annabel Baldwin) into a haunting, contorted dance. The cast members also perform synchronised pieces of movement at the beginning, which are repeated throughout the production. Accompanied by the music and Robinson’s wolfish howling, the opening sequence is a dark and chilling introduction to the play.
Some simple changes from ‘brother’ to ‘sister’ and ‘he’ to ‘she’ effect the gender-swapped Brutus without much difficulty. Teixeira delivers an outstanding performance, capturing both the emotional and brutal aspects of the character, as well as conveying inner turmoil. Additionally, she has great chemistry with Nadi Kemp-Sayfi (playing Brutus’s wife Portia); in their limited time together onstage, they perfectly portray both the love between the two and the increasing strain on their marriage.
Gough’s performance as Cassius is also excellent; she builds an increasingly emotional desperation in the character throughout the play, performing a very moving death. Other notable performers include Baldwin, who is very good in their movement scenes, and Jamal Ajala playing Lucius, Brutus’s man. Since Ajala is deaf, he doesn’t speak throughout the production, using sign language to communicate. The bond between him and Brutus is portrayed as very tender, and sign language is used in a meaningful way to enhance the performance as well as enable communication.
Instead of using knife props and fake blood as would normally be expected, death and murder and bleeding is represented through a black fluid. In Caesar’s death scene, for example, each of the conspirators run at Caesar and push the black fluid onto his shirt, each of them becoming stained with black themselves. There is, in fact, very little in the way of props in this production; apart from a stained shirt in place of Caesar’s dead body, the black fluid, and the large rotating cube, nothing else is required. The large, mobile cube works in a multitude of ways, providing scenery as well as displaying film that adds to the haunting nature of the production.
I have only two small criticisms to make. Firstly, the choice of red jogging bottoms for the Soothsayer seems misjudged; and secondly, a segment in which Brutus plays music from a stereo and dances with Caesar’s ghost is very odd.
Otherwise, this is an outstanding production – a daring new revamp of a play written over 400 years ago. I cannot speak for the Bard, but I think he would have been proud.
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